Is It An Indian Or A Harley? Either Way, It’s Badass!
Originally Published in the March 2020 Issue
This 1942 Indian Chief got its start when Alex Hammelbacher, Mike McElwee, and Steve Goushian from Philadelphia PA met Grant Peterson at the Born Free show. They actually became friends while racing their flatheads while participating in The Race of Gentlemen in Wildwood NJ. They told Peterson that they could build a really cool bike for Born Free, so he took them up on their word and put them to the test when he invited them to build a bike for Born Free 1.
Alex has a background as an Indian guy, while Steve and Mike are Harley guys. This provided plenty of knowledge across both platforms for their project. They were all fans of Indian Larry and were inspired by a project involving a really cool Indian Chief chopper built in the early 90’s which used a Chief motor in a Harley frame. That’s where their inspiration for this build came from. This was a great start for a group of friends that since their teens had grown up with cars and bikes in their lives. The trio was excited to put their combined knowledge together to meld both platforms.
The bike started out with a bunch of pieces from an Indian Chief motor and a Chief frame that belonged to Alex. The other piece was a rigid Panhead frame that belonged to Mike. They proceeded to cut the engine cradle out of the ’42 Chief frame and grafted it to the upper half of the ’48 Panhead frame.
In the meantime, after grafting the frames, they tried to decide in what direction to take the bike. This process took a little over nine months. The group worked out of Steve’s small one-car garage which was packed with tools and motorcycle parts and was less than an ideal space to have three to four grown men working in. But, hey, at least they were well equipped. The team knew they wanted to build the best looking Indian Chief chopper that has ever been seen so they pulled influences from both the east and west coast, threw in a mix of Indian Larry and Ed Roth and still gave the project that traditional hot rod feel.
Since they all had full time jobs and growing families Steve, Mike, and Alex worked on the bike on available weekends. It was tough but they used every spare minute they could to make progress on the chopper build. With their limited time frame, it was quite a challenge to finish the project for the declared deadline. It helped that they had a lot of support from their friends Johnny Damico and Vinnie Padula, both did a lot of running for them and were a very important part of the build.
It turns out the hardest part of the build was trying to bring so many different ideas and styles together to create a great looking chopper that flowed seamlessly. In order to make it work, they had to stay focused and locked down a few of their stronger ideas. They modified every part of the bike starting with the frame, a highly modified rear fender with a taillight housing and Pontiac Firebird side marker bezel, and a one-off seat pan. The three-piece gas tank turned out to be quite a challenge because of all the custom curves and need to bolt them together. The left side is the oil tank, the center is the gas tank, and the right side is their whiskey flask with a modified prism supply fuel shutoff valve. If you ask me, it was well worth the effort.
Everything else was also reworked ; including modifying the engine cases by taking the magneto boss and welding shut, reversing the transmission tower using an early Harley juice drum brake, custom forward controls, chain-driven generator, and modified oil pump housings to accept AN fittings. Andrew Johnson from Antique Speed and Machine modified the dual Linkert carbs and added Velocity Stacks to where the chokes used to be. Jeff Leighton of VARD MFG made a one-off four-inch over narrow front end with modified upper covers. They were mindful to use parts from the early 40’s and 50’s and made it look like they were made to work together.
There are so many stories that go along with this bike. The time one spends with friends is always full of memorable experiences. There was a lot of drinking and carrying on within that nine months, so they were surprised that anything actually got done! The best part for them was getting the bike finished, driving across country, and then showing the bike for the first time in California. Long story short…it was a huge challenge, mentally, physically and financially. They really pushed each other to build the best motorcycle that they could, and they never fought once.